On Monday, I shared a document from the Partner Alliance for Safer Schools (PASS), regarding the potential dangers associated with classroom barricade devices.  This document included a statistic that prompted a quick question:

How can a fire be 1000 times more likely to occur in a school than an active shooter event?  I read about school shootings all the time, and I never hear about fires in schools.

I’m really glad this question was asked.  I will explain where the numbers came from, and I welcome your comments.  Every school shooting is tragic, and anything possible should be done to protect our students and teachers.  I have many other posts addressing other aspects of school security and safety, but in this post I am focusing only on the numbers used in the PASS calculation.

There are many sets of statistics with regard to gun violence in schools, with different criteria for the types of events that are included.  Some statistics include suicides, targeted shootings, accidental discharges of weapons, and gunfire in the parking lot, for example.  Because the focus here is physical security, and specifically the protection provided by locks on classroom doors, the FBI’s statistics on active shooter events were used.  A locked classroom door may not have an effect on suicides, targeted shootings, accidental discharges, and gunfire outside of the building, but it could have a profound effect during an active shooter event.  Therefore, PASS considered the FBI data the most appropriate to use for this comparison.

The FBI has published data on active-shooter incidents from 2000 to 2020.  To ensure that the calculation reflected the current state of school security, the data from 2010 to 2020 was used (view spreadsheet here).

From the FBI Reports: “The agreed-upon definition of an active shooter by U.S. government agencies — including the White House, U.S. Department of Justice/FBI, U.S. Department of Education, and U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency — is ‘an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area,’ Implicit in this definition is that the subject’s criminal actions involve the use of firearms.”

According to the FBI reports, the numbers of active shooter events in all educational buildings between 2010 and 2020 are:

This is a total of 38 active shooter events in educational buildings over a period of 11 years, or an average of 3.5 events per year.


It is commonly stated that “school fires don’t happen any more,” but that’s not the case.  Although the last US school fire with a high loss of life occurred in 1958, this doesn’t mean that there are no fires in schools.  It means that because of code changes and strong enforcement, the school fires that do occur rarely result in fatalities.

So how many fires occur in educational buildings each year?  According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), between 2015 and 2019 each year saw an average of 4,677 fires in educational occupancies.  Between 2011 and 2015, NFPA reported an average of 4,980 fires in educational properties per year.  Taking an average for the period from 2010 to 2020, we can conservatively estimate that approximately 4,800 fires occurred in schools and other education facilities each year.


If there are 4,800 fires (average) in educational occupancies each year, and an average of 4 active shooter events in schools per year (rounded up from 3.5), the calculation to compare the likelihood of each type of event happening is 4,800 fires / 4 active shooter events = 1,200.

According to these figures, it is 1,200 times more likely that a fire will occur in a particular school than an active shooter event.  This demonstrates why it is important to consider fire protection, life safety, and egress IN ADDITION TO security in schools.

Any questions?

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